For the past few years, the blogging scene in this oil-rich country has not really delved into current affairs beyond their personal sphere. This may be caused by a lot of factors, perhaps it is the fear of displeasing possible readers by accidentally asking taboo questions, or the fear of making a bad impression on outsiders towards Brunei, or perhaps simply, a general disinterest in writing about anything serious. Whatever the reason, the general consensus is that, blogs are seen as an avenue for public rants about one's personal love/school/family life, not a place to have rife discussions about the country's progress, politics, education and economy.
Few outside the Bruneian blogosphere is aware that there is a certain tension between the bloggers and the local newspapers. Several, more up-front bloggers are known to openly criticise the sole local English newspaper, the Borneo Bulletin.
Ourlocalstyle.com, one of the more serious blogs maintained by a Mr. LSM, has a whole category dedicated to the paper's various forms of faux pas such as grammar and ridiculous headlines to name a few. However, he makes it clear to readers the following,
Contrary to what some might infer, I don’t hate the BB with a passion that leads me to pray that someday mutant rats will chew the building’s foundation until it collapses into the Earth’s magma. I am, however, dismayed when I see mistakes that my secondary school teacher had to correct. No publication, certainly not the national newspaper, should be making these mistakes.
The tension between bloggers and the local newspaper is not unfounded. A few months ago, the paper had published a front page article (available here) that had threatened local bloggers about the possibility of lawsuits unless the blog is properly registered with the Government Newspaper Act.
Blogging can be considered as publishing and this similarity shows that it is susceptible under the nation's Newspaper Act, authoritative sources said.
(Borneo Bulletin, 25/02/06)
The actual article itself was vague and based on unfounded theories by unquoted "relevant authorities" and "legal experts" rather than facts but it sparked an uproar with the local bloggers.
The issue was in the end resolved by a personal letter to a correspondent in the Prime Minister's Office (available here), and a thorough analysis of the Newspaper Act, Broadcasting Act and the Internet Code of Practice by local bloggers such as LSM assuring other bloggers that everything was alright and no authorisation by the government is needed in order to maintain a blog.
Following the incident, the Borneo Bulletin never issued an apology. However, the incident had considerably weakened their position as a credible source of information and has gained the reputation of being a tabloid rather than a proper newspaper among bloggers.
Ches had a post that addressed the matter and concluded with,
This (…) is an agreement with another blogger’s sentiment against lackadaisical journalism and overall reporter sloppiness.
Sheesh. Tabloid, indeed.
And most bloggers in Brunei agreed.